A Lesson for World Leaders
By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
Last August, after an unprecedented 11 wildfires raged through Swedish forests inside the Arctic Circle, a Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, skipped school for three weeks to distribute leaflets outside Parliament in advance of national elections in solitary protest of adults’ lack of concern for her future.
Thunberg was inspired by the Parkland students, who turned the trauma of a mass shooting at into a movement for gun control.
“Someone I knew said, ‘What if children did that for the climate?’” Thunberg told Democracy Now! in December. “I tried to bring people with me, but no one was really interested, so I had to do it alone.”
But she isn’t alone, anymore.
On March 15, Thunberg tweeted, “School strike week 30”—with hashtags #climatestrike, #fridaysforfuture, #schoolstrike4climate—and was joined by more than 1.5 million other students and supporters at more than 2,000 places, in 125 countries, on every continent — including Antarctica.
At least one of them, JJ Doherty of Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim, Ireland, stood alone, just as Thunberg had done the first few weeks of her strike. “But he stood there in the knowledge that millions of kids all over the world are standing with him today,” his “Very proud Mum” tweeted.
Doherty wasn’t wrong. There were 150,000 student strikers in Montreal, 100,000 in Milan, 20,000 in Sydney, and the list went on and on.
“Indian students of all ages and backgrounds streamed out from schools across the country,” India’s News18.com reported. There, as here in Los Angeles, impacts of climate change and particulate pollution are inextricably intertwined.
“My country lives with the shame of having 14 of the 15 most polluted cities in the world,” 13-year old Arya Dhar Gupta wrote in the Guardian. “How can I not host the strike in Gurugram, labelled the city with the worst air quality in the world in a recent report?”
Regionally, there were events from Laguna Beach, Irvine and Orange to Long Beach, Manhattan Beach, Northridge, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Covina and Rancho Cucamonga. In downtown LA, marching strikers chanted, “What do we want? SCIENCE! When do we want it? AFTER PEER REVIEW!” They assembled for a program that began with a Native American ceremony honoring the directions, beginning with the East:
“It is the land of the eagle, and it is the land of our youth and it is the land of opportunity, and a new day, ceremony leaders said. “It is the youth that will save our earth.”
This past November, Thunberg addressed United Nations Secretary General António Guterres at the U.N. climate summit in Katowice, Poland.
“Some people say that I should be in school instead; some people say that I should study to become a climate scientist so that I can ‘solve’ the climate crisis, but the climate crisis has already been solved,” Thunberg said. “We already have all the facts and solutions. And why should I be studying for a future that soon may be no more, when no one is doing anything to save that future?”
But Thunberg hadn’t just come to complain.
“We have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future,” she said. “They have ignored us in the past, and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming, whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge. And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.”
Others had already begun following Thunberg’s example, but this speech was a turning point, coming just a few weeks after a new UN report warned that there was only a 12-year window to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. A letter signed by more than 12,000 scientists supported the growing movement.
“These concerns are justified and supported by the best available science,” they wrote. “The enormous mobilization of the Fridays for Future/Climate Strike movement shows that young people have understood the situation. As scientists and scholars, we emphatically approve their demand for rapid and forceful action.”
The Guardian carried voices of students from around the world.
“I started my activism quite young — at 11,” said Brianna Fruean, 20. “As a young girl in Samoa, a small island in the south Pacific, hearing the implications it had for my island scared me and jump-started my passion to do something about it. I feel like the young people of the Pacific are now experiencing what young people around the world will experience tomorrow. Right now, along with a lot of other vulnerable communities around the world, we’re having cyclones, floods and droughts. And it’s going to be that — and worse — for future generations.”
“My friends and I heard for the first time about Greta Thunberg and her climate strike in the autumn of 2018,”said Anastasia Martynenko, 20. “Then we had the idea to hold a similar action in Ukraine. We invited other youth and students to join us in Kyiv (aka Kiev) and all together demand from our politicians a new future without climate change. We also got adult supporters. After two weeks, five other Ukrainian cities joined us in organizing actions and will also be coming out to protest today. I and like-minded people are happy to be the driving force of change among young people, because when our children ask us, ‘What have you done for our future?’ We will have an answer.”
Vidit Bay, 17, of India recalled the winter of 2018. “I went to march on the streets of Melbourne with a group of amazing, diverse people of all ages to urge the Australian government to take action against climate change,” he wrote. “When I came back to India, I started an organization called No Borders and wrote an article regarding climate change here in India that was quite popular among my schoolmates and teachers. Then there was no stopping us. Today, young people from all over India will strike for a sustainable future.”
Also featured, speaking in support, was Kumi Naidoo, the Secretary General of Amnesty International and former executive director of Greenpeace, whose activism began in apartheid South Africa.
“In 1980, at the age of 15, I led a student protest that got me expelled,” Naidoo wrote. “Even though adults told us that we could not make a difference, once our eyes were opened to this injustice, there was no alternative…. Rather than give in to the fear that it was too big to take on, we had no choice but to trust in the power of our individual actions. There are many lessons here for the climate-change movement.”
“Only if we act quickly and consistently can we limit global warming, halt the mass extinction of animal and plant species, preserve the natural basis for life and create a future worth living for present and future generations,” the report signed by 12,000 scientists stated. “This is exactly what the young people of Fridays for Future/Climate Strike want to achieve. They deserve our respect and full support.”
“If our leaders and indeed other adults are still clueless as to what they can do,” Naidoo wrote. “My one piece of advice is: act like the kids.”